Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 15 News List

US tour shows what India could lose if Trump wins


As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tours Facebook Inc’s Silicon Valley headquarters this weekend, he will be stepping into the heart of the US immigration debate.

India benefits more than any other nation from the H-1B visa program, which allows skilled foreign nationals to work at US companies. Last year, Asia’s third-largest economy accounted for about two-thirds of the 85,000 US skilled-worker visas.

While US technology companies have backed efforts to boost the number of visas, Republican presidential candidate front-runner Donald Trump wants to make them harder to obtain. Last month he proposed raising the pay threshold for employees on H-1B visas, inserting the issue into the US presidential campaign as part of his wider plans to thwart illegal immigration.

India has the most to lose if the idea sticks.

The US accounts for about 60 percent of India’s software exports, with part of those earnings coming from on-site work.

Researchers at the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimate that earnings generated by skilled visa holders from India are almost equal to the nation’s total exports of goods and services to the US.

“It’s important that this message is consistently delivered by the Indian government,” said R. Chandrashekhar, head of Nasscom, an Indian trade group that represents companies such as Infosys Ltd. “It would be a tragedy for those countries, and for us, if this becomes a punching bag or sacrificial goat in the politics surrounding immigration.”

During his West Coast trip tomorrow and on Sunday, Modi plans to hold a question-and-answer session with Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and meet with executives at Google Inc, Apple Inc and Tesla Motors Inc. He also plans to seek investments in India from Fortune 500 companies and address the Indian diaspora in San Jose, California.

Zuckerberg and Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates have been among those spearheading efforts to check protectionist moves. Along with other like-minded professionals, they helped start, a lobby group that says foreign IT professionals add value to the US economy.

For every 100 H-1B workers, an additional 183 jobs are created for US-born workers, president Todd Schulte said. The benefits are greater with foreign students who stay after graduating from a US university with an advanced degree and end up in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Trump’s proposal, and its influence on the other candidates, will make it hard to expand the number of high-skilled visas before the election, said Fred Bergsten, director emeritus at the Peterson Institute.

“The best case would be that a combination of companies and Modi try to convince the president that he’s got to go for a separate expansion of high-skilled visas apart from overall immigration reform,” said Bergsten, who published a study last week titled India’s Rise: A Strategy for Trade-Led Growth.

Trump would likely do a “tactical shift” if he wins the nomination and tone down his anti-immigrant rhetoric to favor skilled workers, said Vivek Wadhwa, who teaches at Stanford University and wrote The Immigrant Exodus.

This weekend, Modi is likely to focus his efforts on convincing US technology companies to set up operations in India, Wadhwa said.

“Silicon Valley has more to gain from his trip than Modi,” he said. “India has become a tech powerhouse. It’s a very attractive market.”

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